Moooving Towards Cow-Savvy Technology

In the last several years technology has become essential to everyday life. The dairy industry, however, has been using technology to improve animal care for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I always joked with my parents that our cows would get cable TV before we did because we were always investing in new technology to improve the lives of our cows while we watched the same three channels even though the rest of the world had moved on to flat screen TV’s and Netflix (true story!). Looking back, this was because by taking care of our cows, our cows took care of us.

Dairy farmers use technology to keep their cows comfortable while also making their farms more efficient. Technology allows us to care for cows in new and exciting ways. From back-scratchers to fitbits, technology improves animal care on dairy farms!

Fitbit for cows

Dairy farmers often use fitbit-like technology to monitor the health of each cow. Cows can wear these monitors around their neck, or on their ankles.

The monitors deliver information like what I get every day from my fitbit, and more. They not only monitor resting and current heart rate, steps taken, miles walked and hours slept, but how many times a cow swallows and a slew of other information that I can use to measure physical fitness and health.

Farmers use this technology to gauge the health of their animals. Farmers can tell when cows are sick before they show any clinical signs of illness, when cows are in heat and need to be bred and when cows are experiencing stress and need additional attention.

Dairy cows wearing pedometers
Dairy cows often wear collars or anklets that collect detailed information about their health!

Sensors

Sensors monitor the cows’ environment. Cows are milked with a machine that gently massages milk out of the udder, and sensors can be placed in those machines to detect any malfunction before the equipment actually begins to fail. Keeping this equipment running smoothly prevents it from harming the cows during the milking process.

Curtains cover the walls of many barns so heat can be retained. Many dairy farms use sensor technology to move the curtains up and down according to the temperature outside. This keeps the airflow and temperature inside perfect for the cows. Cow cooling techniques like fans and sprinklers also use sensor technology.

Fans, Sprinklers and Cow Cooling Galore

Cows have a higher internal body temperature than humans at about 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of their warm bodies, cows prefer weather between 40 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. So, what do farmers do to keep their cows comfortable in the hot summer months?

Cow cooling is a science based best-practice that says if we keep our cows cool and comfortable, they are happier, healthier and they produce more milk!

Some examples of cow cooling include fans, sprinklers and soakers. Fans circulate the air, sprinklers provide small mists of cool water when cows are around and soakers deliver a direct stream of water for the cows to play and cool off in. They can also turn on when the temperature hits a certain threshold, or are triggered by motion sensors that indicate a cow is nearby. The sprinklers and soakers use recycled water from other areas of the farm!

Give a little to those you love

For my parents 21st wedding anniversary they bought an automatic spinning brush for our cows. It’s mounted on a wall that the cows walk by on their way to and from the milking parlor, and anytime one of them brushes up against it, it turns on and spins. They absolutely love using it; there’s often a line of cows waiting to use it after each milking!

Automatic cow brush
Automatic back-scratching brushes keep cows clean and happy!

This kind of thing happens on dairy farms all the time. Some people find it strange that my parents didn’t get something more traditional for their anniversary like an exotic vacation, or even just a vacation. But to them, this was just as good. Watching the cows come up and use their new toy has become one of the highlights of my days at the farm and our farm tours. So, we still don’t have cable TV (although we did finally get Netflix), but we continue to invest in our cows’ comfort and we are all the better for that.

Stay tuned for another blog about how dairy farms use robot technology to improve animal care!

Misconceptions about antibiotic usage in agriculture

Colby Ferguson, director of government relations and Emily Solis, communications specialist at Maryland Farm Bureau share misconceptions about animal agriculture’s role in antibiotic resistance. To read the original post, click here.

There’s no arguing that antimicrobial resistance is a concern and something we should be cognizant of. The ability to treat a wide range of diseases and illnesses is an extremely valuable tool that we need to keep effective. Evidence shows that the true cause of antimicrobial resistance is human overuse and misuse. Furthermore, farmers have already taken serious steps to improve antibiotic stewardship.

In 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked the 12 most dangerous superbugs. The Priority 1 superbugs, which are considered critical, are all resistant to carbapenem. The carbapenem class of antibiotics are not used in livestock – meaning the resistance has come from use in human medicine. Based on a 2017 stewardship report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that at least 30% of all antibiotics prescribed in outpatient clinics and hospitals are unnecessary.

CDC combats antibiotic resistance

Differences in human and animal medicines

Another important point to make is that the most-used antimicrobials in livestock are severely different than those most-used to treat humans. The vast majority of antibiotics are either used in people or animals, but very rarely both. For instance, tetracycline is the most used class in animals at 41%, while it makes up just 4% of usage in humans – the vast majority of that use is in human acne cream. Penicillins are the most used in humans at 44%, but only comprise 6% of animal agriculture use. Ionophores which make up 30% of usage in animals are not used for human treatment.

antibiotics used in humans vs animals

Studies show that the most urgent antibiotic resistance threats are unrelated to livestock. There is a 1 in a billion chance of antibiotic treatment failure from resistance to common animal antibiotics. This means we are thousands of times more likely to die from a dog bite or lightning striking than from resistance related to animal agriculture. In addition, a December report from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shows that antibiotic usage in animal agriculture is greatly declining. The report outlines that sales and distribution of medically important antibiotics for use in livestock have declined by 33% between 2016 and 2017.

There’s a continued response that antibiotic usage in animal agriculture is unnecessary, but that is inaccurate. Animals are raised in conditions that promote health and wellness – but at some point they will become sick and potentially need treatment. While some companies and package labels are committing to zero antibiotic treatment, this does not share the full story. In truth, animals that were treated with antibiotics are simply marketed under a different name or label.

Antibiotics and food

Lastly, the concern of antibiotics in food and milk is non-existent. Meat producers that utilize antimicrobials for treatment follow strict withdrawal periods. These withdrawal times tell farmers when their animals can safely enter the food system as the antibiotics have safely passed through their system. Meat products are tested for antibiotic residues prior to entering the marketplace. Milk follows similar regulations and testing. Any animal treated with antibiotics will continue to have their milk tested until the results show it is free of the residues. Milk is dumped from those animals until it reaches that point. Milk tanks are also tested prior to being picked up for processing.

Solving instead of scapegoating

Unfairly blaming animal agriculture for antibiotic resistance will not help us solve this issue. Overuse and misuse of medically important antibiotics in human use is the number one reason for the increase in resistant bacteria in our environment. While it may be simpler to blame the agriculture industry, true improvements will not be made until we realize that human antibiotic use is the true concern. Animal agriculture is already making improvements in antibiotic stewardship. Now, it’s time for humans to do the same.

All posts are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of the Animal Ag Alliance.

Paving my path in agriculture

Greetings! My name is Cheyenne Eller and I am excited to announce that I am the fall communications intern at the Animal Agriculture Alliance. Here’s a little about myself…

I didn’t have the classic growing-up-on-a-farm childhood that many people involved in agriculture do. I grew up in a suburban town, but frequently visited my family’s cattle and tobacco farm. Spending time on the farm had me convinced I was born in the wrong generation. Farmers have always inspired me with the dedication they put into their 24/7 job. I wish that more people grew up with some type of farm experience because it really teaches you respect and a work ethic like no other.

Getting Started

My journey began in 5th grade when my parents thought horse back riding lessons would be a cute birthday present. They assumed it would be a once a week, hour commitment, tops. They quickly learned that riding a horse isn’t like going to soccer practice or karate class. You don’t get dropped off for your 5:00 p.m., 30-minute, lesson and leave at 5:30. Instead, you must get there a half hour early to groom your horse and put the tack on yourself. At the end of the lesson your reward is getting to give your horse a good brush or bath and then taking them on a walk to graze. Oh, and don’t forget to put all of the stuff you used back exactly where you found it!

Feeding a treat to famous “California Chrome” at his home in Kentucky

If I was good that week my parents would let me, after much begging, stay longer to give treats to all of the other horses in the barn (it’s not fair if you skip one). I remember saving the snack bags of carrots I would get every day from the school cafeteria to take with me to my weekly lesson. My parents would be lucky to get me in the car by 6:00, but I would have been happy to stay all night. To this day I still work and spend free time at the barn throughout the week and weekends, willingly.

Applying it

In high school I took multiple lessons a week along with working at the barn. I was looking for a way to link my developed passion for agriculture and a career. My sophomore year of high school I was informed about the AgDiscovery program run by the United States Department of Agriculture. This program allows you to attend a college for a few weeks to learn about the many aspects of agriculture. Before going into this program, agriculture to me had two options – the animal side and becoming a vet or the plant side and becoming a farmer. AgDiscovery opened my eyes to a wide range of jobs that were agriculture based.

Taken at the University of Maryland during my AgDiscovery program.

Making it a Career

I participated in AgDiscovery at the University of Maryland, College Park. Through this experience I fell in love with the campus and the complex network available within the Delaware-Maryland-Virginia area. When the time came for me to apply to college, UMD was at the top of my list. I was accepted into UMD and graduated with a degree in Animal Science. During my time on campus, I earned multiple leadership positions within clubs. This involvement allowed me to network and participate in amazing opportunities. I look forward to using my degree to pursue a career in animal agriculture education and outreach. Feel free to take some time to look into how our other interns got into agriculture! This a great opportunity to reflect on how you got involved in agriculture or how it influences your daily life.

All posts are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of the Animal Ag Alliance.

Advice from the best agriculture advocates

As part of the Alliance’s College Aggies Online Scholarship Competition that kicks off on September 16th, I asked the program mentors to share their #1 piece of advice they’d like to share with aspiring agriculture advocates. Here are a few of my favorites…

Listen

Lukas Fricke, Hog Farmer, ChorChek, Inc.: “We’re all people. I know it sounds far out and kinda “yuppie-ish” but we all share the same similar anatomy inside of us and all want to be heard. Listening to the human in a person and not the “conflict creating issues” is how we can make an impact. Now, I’ve made my fair share of quick judgments and fast comments but it takes time to break the feeling of being hurt right off the bat and making the commitment to truly listening and connecting with people. Everyone is scared to make the “right” decision, know that you play an important part in helping talk through those fears.” Follow Luckas!

Lukas Fricke

Don Schindler, Senior Vice President of Digital Innovations, Dairy Management Inc.: “I believe the smartest thing to do is to understand who you are talking to and how you would persuade them to trust agriculture. If you like them, want to entertain them and teach them with the upmost respect, you will succeed. Ignoring their desires, misunderstanding where they come from and forcing education on them is not the way to go.” Follow Don!

Don Schindler

Beth Breeding, Vice President of Communications and Marketing, National Turkey Federation: “Keep it simple and tell a good story – most Americans don’t understand agriculture, so we have to make sure our message gets across in the clearest way possible.” Follow Beth!

Keep an open mind

Cara Harbstreet, RD, Street Smart Nutrition: “Keep an open mind. Although you may be an expert in one area or have a particular set of skills, that doesn’t discount that someone else carries their own expertise in another area. They may seem like opposing sides of a topic but this is a great opportunity to learn and see things through another perspective. It opens the floor for a dialogue and conversation, versus an argument or shutting down. It’s important to avoid the echo chamber effect, especially with tough topics or controversial issues, so I believe in keeping an open mind before drawing assumptions about someone’s message or the reason behind their actions.” Follow Cara!

Cara Harbstreet

Tim Hammerich, AgGrad: “It’s impossible to be both curious and angry at the same time. Stay genuinely curious and you will avoid getting angry.” Follow Tim!

Focus on relationships

Jessica Peters, Dairy Farmer, Spruce Row Farm: “You can’t approach advocating like you’re educating consumers, nobody wants to be preached to. We need to focus on sharing our lives with consumers. We all want our advice and information from people we trust, if we work on creating relationships, trust will come with it.” Follow Jessica!

Jessica Peters

Lauren Arbogast, Chicken Farmer, Paint The Town Ag: “Don’t pursue people for the sake of “education.’ Pursue them for relationships, and the conversations about agriculture will happen.” Follow Lauren!

Rebecca Hilby, Dairy Farmer, Weigel Dairy/Hilby Family Farm: “BE YOURSELF. Once you start having fun on social media and show that you’re human just like your consumers, you’ll be able to relate to them and engage so much more!” Follow Rebecca!

Rebecca Hilby

Jennifer Osterholt, Strategic Marketing Consultant and Farmer, Osterholt Marketing & Communications LLC: “To connect with people we have to reach out. There is great opportunity for those of us in agriculture to learn what people care about and focus on communicating in those terms. I began sharing stories about farming and people in my personal circles read and followed me. When I transitioned to sharing recipes my traffic began growing in very noticeable ways. About 100,000 people click on my website each month looking for a great recipe. I gently weave stories about modern food production into my recipe posts. I would love to see others communicate with large volumes of people and help generate income for themselves in the process.” Follow Jennifer!

Jennifer Osterholt

Be honest

Allison Devitre, Regulatory Scientific Affairs, Bayer Crop Science: “Open, read and verify the information prior to sharing online. People that look to you as a credible source of information will find you a valuable resource if they can count on you for accuracy!” Follow Allison!

Allison Devitre

Karoline Rose, KRose Marketing and KRose Cattle Company: “Honesty and consistency. People want to hear the truth and hear it often.” Follow Karoline!

Marissa Hake, DVM, Veterinarian, Midwest Veal, LLC/ Strauss Feeds: “Be authentic and always fact check. Remember that it takes “all kinds of kinds” and we should be supporting all types of agriculture.” Follow Marissa!

Marissa Hake

Michelle Jones, Grain Farmer, BigSkyFarmher: “Find your passion. What are you the most passionate about? Crops? Agronomy? Animal Science? Ranching? Policy? Once you find your passion, simply start. Start talking. Start posting. Start telling your story and how your life is impacted by agriculture. It is as simple as taking the first step in what often seems to be an overwhelming and monumental undertaking.” Follow Michelle!

Students signed up for this year’s College Aggies Online Scholarship Competition will have the opportunity to network and learn these amazing people. If you are interested in participating, visit https://collegeaggies.animalagalliance.org. To follow along with this year’s competition, search #CAO19 on social media!

The Case for Really Reliable Research

Did you know that the divorce rate in Maine has a 99.2% correlation with the amount of margarine consumed in the state, and that the revenue generated by arcade games has a 98.5% correlation with the amount of computer science doctorates awarded in the US?

correlation between margarine and divorce in Maine
Data sources: National Vital Statistics Reports and U.S. Department of Agriculture

Correlation does not equal causation. Margarine doesn’t cause divorce in Maine, and arcade revenue has very little to do with computer science degrees in the US. These are all examples of why researchers shouldn’t use correlation to determine causation.

Research

When I was in high school, my English teacher assigned our class an argumentative research paper. These were usually our biggest assignments of the year. We had to take a stance on a topic and defend it with sources.

The first step to a research paper is the actual research. So, the school library directed me to a few databases they said would lead me to “reliable sources” for any topic. Naturally, I wanted to write about agriculture.

When I logged on to the database, I was appalled to find that the top result in all of my searches was not from a “reliable source” but from PETA, a known animal activist group with the goal of destroying all animal agriculture. How could this be the case? How could this false and biased information be on a database referred to as “reputable” and “reliable”?

Unreliable Resources

Although I found reliable resources for my paper, I dug through several pages of unreliable sources and biased research before I found anything I could use.

Sure, my teacher had discussed how to avoid websites with childish graphics, excess ads and poor design because they were likely unreliable. However, my classmates and I received no information about how to find reliable research as opposed to biased research.

Qualities of Reputable Academic Research

Here are some things to look for that demonstrate high quality, unbiased research:

  1. A clear statement about the methods used to test what is being studied
  2. A clear list of questions the researcher wants to answer
  3. A definition of the subject being studied. Does the definition match what is accepted in general society?
  4. A list of the processes including controls or instruments (like tests or surveys) used to study the subject
  5. The study should be easy to replicate. Research is replicated too demonstrate that the results are more than just outliers.

Additionally, these are some general characteristics of biased, unreliable research:

  1. Research looks for something that is not there
  2. Plagiarism
  3. Falsifying data or misrepresenting data to prove a point (i.e. claiming correlation equals causation)

Research needs to be reliable

If someone told you that Nicolas Cage movies caused people to drown by falling into their pools, you’d tell that person that they were crazy. But when it comes to the food we eat, correlation is often accepted as causation, when in fact, claiming that correlation equals causation in any case, is just as ridiculous as the correlations in this blog post.

correlation between Nicolas Cage movies and Pool Drownings
Data sources: Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and Internet Movie Database

Why is it so hard to find reliable research for Ag?

We live in the information age. Most people can become partially educated on any subject through a quick Google search and 10-12 minutes of scrolling. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to get accurate information about agriculture on the internet.

This may seem strange, but think of it this way: less than two percent of the population in the US are directly involved with agriculture, and less than one percent are involved with animal agriculture. That’s less than 3,272,000 people who are responsible for feeding 100% of the population. That’s the equivalent of Los Angeles being responsible for producing food for our country and the world. So, it makes sense that it can be difficult to get accurate information out there, especially while most of that small percentage of people are busy producing food 365 days a year.

So, next time you see a statistic or a claim, look into how the research was done before you make conclusions based on numbers. And if you have specific questions about agriculture, consider asking a farmer before you start Googling!

All posts are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of the Animal Ag Alliance.

Tips for effective agriculture advocacy

Today, information is everywhere, and not to mention easily accessible. Maybe a little too easily accessible–a quick Google search is all it takes for me to learn the random fact that Amy Poehler’s favorite TV show is Judge Judy. Now you know, too. What does this mean for agriculture advocacy?

It’s not just celebrities that can find their lives invaded by society’s constant need for news. As more people become interested in learning about the food they eat, farmers and everyone involved in food production are seeing an increased interest in their professions. This interest can drive important conversations about modern agricultural practices. Everyone deserves to understand where their food comes from.

Sources

However, we know that there are non-credible sources that exist for nearly every topic. Farming is no different. A ‘crowd’ of information can come from sources that are misinformed, misdirected, or even just outdated. It’s up to agriculturalists to be the loud voices for current, factual representations of what food production looks like.

I say this knowing that it’s not always easy to know how to advocate for your beliefs. In this sense, you can let the job advocate for itself! How can it be that easy? Consider that we know less than 2% of Americans are directly involved in production agriculture. That leaves 98% of the country with little to no exposure to farming, which could make information about agriculture from an outdated source seem realistic. Instead, we can share real farming transparently to answer many of the questions today’s consumer might have.

It might hurt but it’s still true!

Being Loud Among the Crowd

One of the easiest ways to promote agriculture to those around you is to use today’s newspaper: social media. Farm Facebook pages, blogs, Instagram accounts, and even ag podcasts are excellent resources to show the world how your farm or ranch helps provide for the world. As you start your agriculture advocacy, here are a few tips:

1. Pick a platform

It can be exciting to get to share your passion! You want to start strong, but burnout is a real thing. Try choosing one platform to focus on at first. Facebook is often a good choice because it’s usually familiar to a wide range of people and you can easily share posts with your personal friends to gain a following. Also, be sure to use a site that matches the content you want to share. Cute farm pics? Try Instagram. More writing and stories? A blog might be a good fit.

Agriculture Advocacy
Using Instagram to share a picture and a point.

2. Stick to a schedule

So you have the page–now what? You’ll gain a community by interacting with the website, and that means posting! To keep yourself accountable, set a schedule of when you’ll always post. This can be every day or just a couple times each week. You can share about farming practices, a favorite cow, or even just a quick picture of what you did that day. Real, informational captions are worth their weight in gold. Check out one of my favorite farmer pages to get some content ideas.

3. Engage actively

Posting is awesome, but we can dive even deeper to share about agriculture. Effective communication is a two-way street. For social media, that means taking the time to respond to questions and comments from our followers, sharing ideas with other ag advocates, and supporting all aspects of our agricultural industries. It means being a human, even if that’s just sharing someone else’s post that you enjoy! Your page can be a great way to connect with farming and non-farming friends alike.

4. Don’t get discouraged

Explaining your way of life on social media makes you very vulnerable, and it can be scary. There are sure to be some folks that disagree with what you share, and that’s okay. Remember that the point of sharing what you do is to create (respectful) conversation that both parties can grow from. You can use industry resources to build that dialogue: check out Chicken Check In, American Dairy Association, Beef Checkoff, Poultry Feeds America, and Pork Checkoff, just to name a few. Still, just as in life, sometimes it’s necessary to walk away from a conversation. It’s the positive interactions that will make a difference for your industry.

Chicken agriculture advocacy
One-stop shop for eveything about broiler chickens.

With these tips in mind, we can all be more prepared to share what we love. We’ve heard time and time again that farmers need to share their story–it’s true, in order to put out reliable, real food information to everyone looking for it. Instead of letting others write that story, let’s write it ourselves!

All posts are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of the Animal Ag Alliance.

Could you be hiring an “undercover” activist?

Are the employees working on your farm there to help care for your animals? Do their goals align with your business? Unfortunately, it’s a common strategy for some animal rights organizations to have individuals go “undercover” on farms. They record videos that can be taken out of context, stage scenes of animal mistreatment or encourage abuse to record it without doing anything to stop it.

Hiring good employees
A farm worker taking care of cows.

While the first step is always ensuring your animal care practices are beyond reproach, the Animal Agriculture Alliance also advises farmers and ranchers to be vigilant when hiring. Ensure everyone hired is there for the right reason – to provide care to livestock – and does not have any ulterior motives that would distract from that.

7 tips for hiring farm employees

The Alliance is a non-profit working to bridging the communication gap between farm and fork for more than thirty years. We monitor animal rights activists and offers these tips when hiring:

  1. It is vital to thoroughly screen applicants, verify information and check all references.
  2. Be cautious of individuals who use a college ID, have out of state license plates or are looking for short-term work.
  3. During the interview, look for answers that seem overly rehearsed or include incorrect use of farm terminology.
  4. Search for all applicants online to see if they have public social media profiles or websites/blogs. Look for any questionable content or connections to activist organizations.
  5. Require all employees to sign your animal care policy. Provide training and updates on proper animal handling training.
  6. Require employees to report any mishandling to management immediately.
  7. Watch out for red flags, such as coming to work unusually early or staying late and going into areas of the farm not required for their job.

Trust your gut

Always trust your gut – if something doesn’t seem right, explore it further. Be vigilant and never cut corners, even if you need to hire someone quickly. Doing your homework on every job applicant may be time-consuming, but it can ultimately save your business’ reputation. As always, it is important to work with your legal counsel to ensure compliance with federal and state laws.

hiring employees
Are you hiring?

For farm security resources and background information on animal rights activist organizations, go to www.AnimalAgAlliance.org or email us. Members of the Animal Ag Alliance have access to more detailed resources on hiring and farm security.

What Gets Your Goat? Actually, A Lot

One of my best friends and I are very different people. I’ve worked on my family’s farm and have been showing our animals for years. I sign up for any activities relating to agriculture I can find. She, on the other hand, didn’t exactly grow up in the city, but when I once let her visit one of my cows, 30 seconds was enough for her to get her farm fix.

It seems like a good time to mention that this friend is now in the process of applying to law school. She knows more about politics than I ever will or want to. The takeaway here: each of us has our different strengths, things that we do better than the other. This is a principle that we learn in elementary school and see play out in our every day lives. But have you ever thought about how it applies to livestock?

Cattle are a great example of one species with different skills. You have probably noticed before that some cows appear thinner and others are, as the name implies, beefier. The resulting difference between beef and dairy cattle is the result of years and years of selective breeding for different traits. Farmers breed cows and bulls with leaner muscling together to develop even better beef, and others breed lines of animals known for higher milk production. Makes sense, right?

Beef cattle like this one are bred to convert feed into lean muscle mass, but dairy cattle use more of their energy into milk production.

So what about the goats?

If you came here because of the cute goat picture, don’t worry, we’re getting there. Did you know that goats are diversified just like cattle? All around the world, meat goats are bred for their muscle and dairy goats are bred for their milk. Let’s take a deeper look at what exactly that means.

Dairy goats make the milk (and cheese and…soap?)

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), there were 373,000 dairy goats in the U.S. in 2017–a 61 percent increase from 2007! Dairy goats are the fastest growing livestock sector in the country, but Americans are just catching on to the trend. In many countries, dairy goats are the choice for milk production because they are smaller and easier to maintain than dairy cows. Goat’s milk may even be more comfortable to consume than cow’s milk for some people. Carrie Liebhauser is the marketing director of LaClare Family Creamery in Wisconsin. “Goat’s milk isn’t free of lactose but it’s lower, and the fat globules in goat’s milk are much smaller and break down more easily,” she says.

All this is to say nothing of the tremendous goat cheese market that has exploded in recent years. Many flavors of soft feta can be found in nearly any supermarket now, and some dairy goat producers have innovated their own special varieties. Goat cheeses cook differently than cow cheeses, and a gourmet culture has evolved around goat’s milk foods. But if the taste isn’t really your thing, you can still support goat producers. An assortment of soaps and lotions are popping up at many farmer’s markets.

There are six main breeds of goats raised for milk production in the U.S., all different in their colors, sizes, and traits. Saanens are the highest-producing breed at an average of 2,500 pounds of milk in a single year! That’s enough milk for about 250 pounds of fresh chevre.

Goats
Dairy goats are growing in numbers all across the U.S. (Photo: American Dairy Goat Association)

Goat meat a new staple?

Using goats for meat is less common in the U.S. than in many other places, because chevon is a popular part of cuisine in North African, Middle Eastern, and African diets, just to name a few. But demand has been growing in American and European cultures over the past few decades, dispelling the ideas that goat is “tough” or a “barnyard meat.” There’s still a lot of room to grow, though. Goat meat has been cited as a great source of lean protein, even lower in cholesterol and fat than other red meats. Still not convinced of the benefits of goat? Check out this article.

Most goats raised for meat in the U.S. are Boer goats, a breed native to South Africa that didn’t make it’s way to America until 1993. Boer goats are fast growers and easy to maintain, making them ideal for meat production. Their African heritage also makes them hardier for more harsh environments. A 2012 USDA study found that about half of all goat operations in the west were focused on meat production versus dairy (as opposed to only a quarter of goat farms in the northeast).

Goats
A herd of South African Boer goats.

A bit of everything

Now we know that not all goats are created equally. From cheese to burgers, goats have the potential to become a major livestock species. In that regard, Americans can take a page out of the rest of the world’s book.

All posts are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of the Animal Ag Alliance.

What is a “Factory Farm”?

Factory Farm. Industrialized Farm. Corporate Farm. What do all of these repetitive, synonymous terms mean, and are they really all that bad? Where do people who use these terms draw the line? In their eyes, when does a small, family farmer become this vilified corporate monster? What is the true definition of a “factory farm?”

Having grown up on a farm, I’d never thought of our operation as a “factory farm.” The very phrase comes with such a negative connotation that most people in agriculture shy away from it. Frankly, farmers think of the term “factory farm” as incredibly offensive as it is mostly used by activists trying to paint larger farms in a negative light. But does the definition of the word “factory” line up with the connotations that now come with it?

Turkey farmers care for their animals by using modern technology to improve animal care.

Factory and Farm Definitions

First, let’s define the terms. Merriam Webster defines “Factory” as “a building or set of buildings with facilities for manufacturing”, or ” the seat of some kind of production.”

Farm” is defined as “a tract of land devoted to agricultural purposes”,”a plot of land devoted to the raising of animals and especially domestic livestock” and/or “a tract of water reserved for the artificial cultivation of some aquatic life form.”

Agricultural practices are supported by peer reviewed research.

Now, if we put the two together and search the term “factory farm” we get, “a farm on which large numbers of livestock are raised indoors in conditions intended to maximize production at minimal cost” or “a large industrialized farm.”

Analysis

The section that I find most intriguing is the “examples of this word in a sentence” portion of the website. For the term factory we have “the new factory will create hundreds of much-needed jobs.” The term farm had two examples, “Running a farm is hard work” and “She grew up on a dairy farm.” But, when we go to the term factory farm and look for an example sentence the first one available is, “More than 50 billion land animals suffered and died on factory farms this year” and “The overwhelming majority of animals raised for food are still raised on factory farms, where 50 billion animals lived and died this year.”

There was not a single example sentence for the term “factory farm” that discussed the hard working farmers and how 1-2% of the United States population is feeding 100% of our nation.

Why is there such a leap in meaning when we put two seemingly benign words together? First farmers are hard working people, next they’re the cause of death and suffering for their animals? If you find this as fishy as I do, keep reading.

So what is the goal of a factory?

Lets take animals out of the equation for a minute. Instead let’s discuss a factory that manufactures ball point pens. Disclaimer: I am in no way an expert on the manufacturing of ball point pens.

Factory
Factories aim to create high quality consistent products at a low cost!

If I was a manager or owner of a ball point pen factory, I would want to hire good people who would work hard at their jobs, to minimize costs and maximize outputs so that the factory could be as efficient as possible, and overall make high quality writing utensils to sell in places like Staples, Target and Walmart.

While doing these things, I would have to abide by regulations so I would not cause environmental harm with my factory while still producing the product to meet the demand.

Simply put, factories aim to create high quality, consistent products in an environmentally and economically efficient way.

Business Structure

Now it’s time for some economics. I hear the term “corporate farm” a lot, and I want to talk about what that actually means. Just because a farm is a “corporate farm” doesn’t mean they’re not also a family farm.

As I’ve mentioned, farms are businesses. The ultimate goal is to make at least a little bit of a living doing what we love: caring for animals and providing nutritious and safe food for the rest of the population.

But, there are different ways to classify your business that determine tax and legal considerations. To put it simply, there are Sole Proprietorships, Partnerships, Corporations and Limited Liability Corporations (LLC’s).

A sole proprietor is someone who owns an unincorporated business by themselves. A partnership is exactly what it sounds like; two or more people who run a business of some sort. A corporation is slightly more complicated in that it essentially forms a separate entity to take on the liability of the business (Walmart is an example). An LLC is a combination of a corporation and a proprietorship.

Just because a business chooses to become something more than a sole proprietorship doesn’t make that business any less family run. All it does is change the way that business goes through taxes and insurance and liability.

The point is, corporate farm does not mean it cannot also be a family farm. Family farms may appear as LLCs, corporations or sole proprietorship’s.

“Factory Farm”

So, now that we’ve looked at the goals of a factory and discussed the types of business classification, lets go back to discussing “factory farms.”

In my opinion, there are two ways this conversation can go: either every farm is a factory farm, or there is no such thing as a factory farm. Spoiler alert: they both end up at the same conclusion. Farmers and and ranchers are generally good men and women.

Dairy farm
Farmers work with veterinarians to keep their animals healthy.

They do have similar goals to that of a factory. Farmers want to produce high quality, consistent products. They care for the land and the environment because they live there too.

On the other side, because every farm has the same goals of a factory, is there need for terminology with such a negative connotation?

97% of United States farms are family owned. That number includes farms of all sizes, practices and industries. I have traveled to some of the most agriculture-intensive states and visited farms ranging from 40,000 cows to 30 goats. I had the opportunity to speak with each owner, and I can tell you that the commitments to animal care and a safe and nutritious end product were the same.

So, the next time you hear some one criticizing “factory farms,” take a stand. Ask yourself to look at the farm from an unbiased standpoint! You could even reach out to the farmer and ask about their business structure and their commitment to animal care.

All posts are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of the Animal Ag Alliance.

Trusting turkey farmers

The Animal Ag Alliance team recently participated in a staff outing to celebrate Casey’s graduation from George Mason University with a master’s in strategic communication – congrats, Casey! We spent the morning at Go Ape!, a zipline and tree-top adventure experience.

Everyday trust

This adventure included five different obstacle courses, about 20 feet above ground that all ended in a zipline to return to the ground. Half way through one of the courses, I notice the tree I was headed to wasn’t too big around. It was holding up two obstacles (the one I was on and the one I would be headed to next), a platform, me and all of my coworkers. It had a BIG job. I started to wonder if I should trust the tree to hold everything up. And then I started to wonder if I should trust the engineers, builders and safety inspectors. Then I started to wonder if there were even any safety inspectors. Had we done adequate research on this place?!

Go Ape Course
Going Ape!

At that point, pretty much my only option was to keep going, try to put these thoughts out of my mind and trust the system.

Trust. We put trust in people everyday. And we ask others to put trust in us. I trust the people around me, people I’ve never met, and even people I probably don’t know exist. People driving cars around me, pilots, people testing drinking water, farmers, doctors, and the list goes on.

I’m fortunate to have met hundreds of farmers and ranchers so putting my trust in them is easy. I’ve seen first-hand the care many farmers take to put food on our tables. I know farmers care for their animals, their land and their employees.

My visit to a Minnesota turkey farm

In honor of Turkey Lover’s Month, I’d like to share some insights I learned from visiting a turkey farm and a cranberry bog. (Turkey and cranberries are great year-round, not just at Thanksgiving!)

On a visit to a Minnesota turkey farm, I learned:

  • They are always looking to making improvements. As we walked around the barn, those leading the tour pointed out some areas where they thought they could do better and changes they would implement before the next flock arrived.
  • Turkeys grow without added hormones or steroids.
  • Farmers prioritize biosecurity to keep the birds healthy. The farmer proudly shared the flock we were visiting was healthy and did not need to be treated with antibiotics. If a flock does get a disease that can be helped with antibiotics, they use them to get them healthy as quickly as possible and to help keep the birds as comfortable as possible.
  • A baby turkey is a poult. This is a good tidbit to know before chatting with the president of a turkey company. Definitely do NOT call them chicks!
Turkey farmer
Turkey farmer checking on his birds.

Visiting a cranberry bog

Most of the farm tours I do are livestock or poultry farms, but it was awesome to visit a cranberry grower. Here are a few takeaways from that visit:

  • Just like livestock producers, he talked about the importance of sustainability and keeping the land healthy for future generations.
  • He puts a lot of attention toward giving the cranberries the exact nutrients they need to thrive.
  • He seeks advice from outside experts and consultants.
  • It’s pretty cool to harvest cranberries! It’s just like the commercials!

You can find farmers too!

Not everyone knows a farmer, but connecting with farmers is easier than you may think. If you have questions, check out 6 ways to ask a farmer or industry leader. Farmers and ranchers are all over social media these days. Check out our list of farmers to follow. And don’t forget to celebrate Turkey Lover’s Month!